Yesterday, during a lunch time drive, I unplugged the iPhone from the car stereo jack and tuned in to a dose of Rush Limbaugh. I caught Rush in mid-bloviation, putting a positive spin on the recent polling reports showing Romney dips in swing states — proclaiming that given all the institutional weight of society behind Obama, it is simply amazing that the presidential race is still so close. That “The Fed” is behind Obama. “Hollywood” is in Obama’s corner. And, of course, “the Media”.
That nameless, faceless, sinister blob termed “the Media”. Just like “the Man”. A nefarious cabal orchestrating its way via sock puppets. Yes, I am painting a cartoonish depiction, but so often, that is exactly how the term is used. Them, the powers that be, that lord over us little ones. Growing up, in family circles, drizzled in to such talk would also be refrains about “the Jews”. “Speech” that would incite me to boil inside with rage and often respond in anger.
True, that for the modern, pre-internet media age, there was a “manufactured consent”, a regulated space delimiting a agreed upon consensus range of acceptable political ideas. Communists and leftists shunned as well as fringe extremists on the right. A general consensus on the exceptional greatness of America and heralding of Americans as the “good guys” that saved the world from darkness. A collective belief in the wholesale benevolence of capitalism, sprinkled with dollops of liberal dissent at intermittent intervals.
But in the post-factual Age of the Internet, it is not possible to pigeonhole “the Media” as such a consensus entity. Because “the Media” now is squarely defined by the viewer beholding. Political news consumers seek out sources that affirm what they already believe, and there now exists an inexhaustible supply eager to serve up such fare. Which accounts for the prevalence of all those who believe President Obama is Satan incarnate, a Kenyan Muslim Socialist Dictator King who wishes to usurp America’s greatness and cede sovereignty to U.N. demons who worship Moloch. They believe as such because the media that informs their worldview fills their minds with such suppositions and suspicions. Even if allusions are deftly crafted with uncertainty. But, no mistake, it is fear driven message casting. So, “the Media” is now just a screen to fill with whatever we wish it to portray.
And, as media analysts have heralded, the web has segregated us into online spots where the like minded convene. Especially in conservative locales where tribalism is the highest treasured value, and deviance to the party line is treated with name calling, derision and then the banstick is applied. In earlier times, before the explosion of blogs and social media, online discussion sites were often less homogenous. Well, except for the dividing line of technical proficiency that precluded many in the mass public from participating. But in this more primitive age, there was more of a “free speech” ethos in effect. Experiencing having a comment deleted was jarring, because unlike today, it truly felt like being silenced. In 2012, you can create a Tumblr blog (or WordPress/Blogger blog, Twitter, etc.…) in 5 seconds and sound off. So, in essence, most online communities are hives of like minded sorts, which makes for frequenting an exercise in reinforcing preexisting views.
One ubiquitous internet community, however, features a confluence of political perspectives. That be Facebook. There, your family, friends and coworkers “mingle”, er share a news stream where divergent political shots scroll. Perhaps this is a personal quirk, but most of my Facebook friends don conservative stripes. Generally, I refrain from political engagement on the platform, but occasionally I venture into political post land.
This week, I was “unfriended” by someone for posting a dissenting reply to a “Obama is a Muslim” post. I have been “unfriended” before as a result of political dialectic, but those never fazed me much, as the “friends” were those I did not know well (in real life) or loose family relationships. But this one stung a bit, as it someone I know well. Someone that belongs to the same church and has been a part of a church study group that I lead, And family ties in other ways too. And getting “unfriended” in Facebook is even more “silencing” than the old message board censoring. It seems that once “unfriended”, you are unable to see any comments by that individual, which makes for bizarre comment streams where you can read others conversing with a phantom “name” for which you see no comments by.
Sad, for if we stop speaking to each other, it denotes a lift on the escalator of hostility.